European commission factsheet food tracability
Monday 18 June 2007Tracing food through the production and distribution chain to identify and address risks and protect public health.
Food safety has been a growing concern among EU citizens over the last decades. Outbreaks of disease in animals that could be transmitted to humans, or the presence of chemicals above acceptable limits in feed and food, can threaten both the quality and safety of products.
Traceability is a risk-management tool which allows food business operators or authorities to withdraw or recall products which have been identified as unsafe. It is a cornerstone of the EU’s food safety policy.
The EU’s General Food Law entered into force in 2002 and makes traceability compulsory for all food and feed businesses. It requires that all food and feed operators implement special traceability systems. They must be able to identify where their products have come from and where they are going and to rapidly provide this information the competent authorities.
The EU has published guidelines (available on the European Commission website) which require business operators document the names and addresses of the supplier and customer in each case, as well as the nature of the product and date of delivery. Operators are also encouraged to keep information on the volume or quantity of a product, the batch number if there is one, and a more detailed description of the product, such as whether it is raw or processed.
In addition to the general requirements, sector-specific legislation applies to certain categories of food products (fruit and vegetables, beef, fish, honey, olive oil) so that consumers can identify their origin and authenticity.
There are also special traceability rules for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which ensure that the GM content of a product can be traced and require accurate labelling so that consumers can make an informed choice.
In the case of animals, producers must now “tag” every one with details of their origin and, when animals are taken for slaughter, stamp them with the traceability code of the abattoir. The tools used (ear tags, passports, bar codes) may vary from one country to another but must carry the same information.